WASHINGTON - The US government has pledged more money toward this year’s flood relief efforts in Pakistan than the country’s own government, according to a report this month from the Congressional Research Service, reported Christian Science Monitor on Tuesday.
But instead of helping repair US-Pakistan relations, the flood aid looks more likely to harden the existing pattern where Americans tire of financially supporting a country where elites are barely taxed and the majority of citizens dislike the US. Pakistan, meanwhile, points out US pledges are often much greater than the aid actually delivered – and what aid does come is spent in a self-interested manner.
“These aid figures are on paper and never really materialise into anything. The foreign aid pledge is always about - this will come, that will happen, but it never does,” says Irshad Bhatti, spokesperson for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), an autonomous government body that looks after disaster relief in Pakistan.
Bhatti stressed that the Pakistani government with the help of NDMA distributed 45,000 tents and 100,000 rations this year to the flood affected areas.
He also said a total of around 25 billion rupees (approx $261.78 million) were kept aside for natural disaster like floods this year in the federal and provincial budgets.
“As far as I know, we did everything ourselves this year. We did not get any direct funding from US or any other government,” Bhatti says, and complained that foreign aid comes with too many conditions. “I do not believe it is for our help but to serve their [donor country’s] own interests,” Bhatti replied, when asked to comment on the US report claiming the American government aid pledge being more than that of Pakistan.
The US Embassy in Pakistan said that for floods this year USAID has disbursed around $100,000 so far. Since 2009, the US government has spent over a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance.
The floods in Pakistan this year have killed more than 400 people over the past five weeks and affected over five million people, according to NDMA data. However, the past two years’ floods have not been as bad as it was in 2010 when Pakistan suffered the worst floods in its history that killed almost 1,800 people and affected around 21 million in the country.
Commenting on the extent of disaster, Bhatti also said that Pakistan’s management of floods and other natural disaster needs to improve to minimise their fallout.
“We need to plan better to avoid the catastrophic impact of floods and people are not learning from their past. Why will the international community help us if we do not help ourselves?”
In the aftermath of the 2010 crisis, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed Pakistan – a country with one of the lowest tax compliance rates in the world – to get the country’s elites to pony up.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable for those with means in Pakistan not to be doing their fair share to help their own people while taxpayers in Europe, the US and other contributing countries are all chipping in,” Clinton said just over two years ago.
Since then, Pakistan has made promises to its lenders at the International Monetary Fund to expand its tax net, but has consistently failed to do so.
“Essentially, I think it is outrageous that the American taxpayer is continuing to bail out Pakistan when the elite there continue to not pay taxes,” says Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University in Washington. “What’s even more outrageous, the Pakistanis have consistently made commitments to the IMF to expand their tax net in exchange for getting very lucrative bailouts knowing full well they will never implement those commitments.”
Part of the problem, says Ms Fair, is that Pakistani officials know that the US will pressure the IMF to keep providing money to the government, even when it fails to implement promised reforms.
The spokesperson for NDMA stressed, however, that funding from charity and donations from Pakistani individuals is significant, giving the agency revenues unmatched by any international assistance. The importance of Pakistani philanthropy is a view seconded by many welfare organisations working in Pakistan for relief assistance in flood-affected areas.
“If the US government is doing more, then it’s a positive step but Pakistani government should have the leading role. Sadly they do not care much about their own people and lack planning. However, local organisations were at the forefront of helping flood-affected population this year,” says Ibtisam Elahi Zaheer, head of an Islamic welfare organisation in Lahore.
Like the NDMA official, Zaheer does not trust the claims of the American government. “The US can easily be lying about it because they are always exaggerating about aid to Pakistan. And even if they are giving more than the Pakistani government, it is only compensating the destruction and loss American drones are causing in the country,” he added.